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Boyd Farrow rounds up what’s happening in the business world across Europe
NH Hotels wants Berlin guests to live the music
Madrid-listed NH Hotels – the third largest hotel chain in Europe – is moving into the niche market to augment its 400 establishments that mainly cater to the business traveller. Its latest project, The Nhow Hotel in Berlin, is aimed at people who work in the music industry.
On the banks of the river Spree, the Nhow Berlin bills itself as the only hotel in Europe offering two professional music studios. A music manager is on staff, as is a team drawing heavily from local music colleges. Live concerts take place in the hotel’s event spaces, while first-rate DJs are on hand in the bar. The music studios are operated in collaboration with Lautstark Music GmbH/René Rennefeld, which also manages the legendary Berlin Hansa recording studios. The Nhow’s 304 rooms, meanwhile, have iPod connections and more than 30 TV and 100 music radio stations in a state-of-the-art entertainment system. Wi-fi and 5,000-plus videos-on-demand are available in every room; Gibson guitars can even be ordered through room service. One wall of the hotel’s exterior is also being designed in collaboration with Berlin graffiti artists.
Whilst hoping to capitalise on Berlin’s busy music scene, NH hasn’t forgotten about its home city. The company has just converted an impressive 19th-century Madrid mansion into the new NH Palacio de Tepa – a five-star hotel on the Calle de San Sebastián, in the heart of the city’s bohemian neighbourhood.
Russia’s won the 2018 World Cup bid; now comes the financial battle
The Russian government will provide RUB 300bn (€7.4bn) of funding for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, excluding airports and roads, according to finance minister Alexei Kudrin. But prime minister Vladimir Putin has made it clear that he expects big business to contribute to what some say will be a €15bn to €40bn overall tab, with billionaire Roman Abramovich and oil giant Gazprom two sources likely to be tapped.
Compared with nominal gross domestic product of $1.2trn (€0.9trn), which is forecast to double over the next decade, the investment figures are modest, as is the projected effect on growth – although some sectors could get a boost. Thirteen stadiums will have to be built, while another three – Luzhniki in Moscow (which will host the final), Dynamo and Yekaterinburg – will need to be renovated. But the most costly investments are likely to be in transportation infrastructure. Airports will require significant upgrades, including the doubling of the capacity of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo and Vnukovo airports by 2015. High-speed railway links are needed between many of the host cities, thousands of kilometres of roads and railways need to be improved or built, and there is a need for measures to ease Moscow’s chaotic traffic. Russia has pledged about €8.3bn to develop its tourism infrastructure, with funding coming from private and public sources. According to FIFA, Russia needs to build or renovate 19,000 hotel rooms. Internet and telephone communications, and broadcasting structure, will also need to be improved.
DHL to test a scheme where members of the public deliver packages
The small-package delivery industry has been embarking on several schemes to reduce both energy and congestion, including neighbourhood pickup spots and a ride-sharing initiative for packages. Now bring.BUDDY, a programme that will soon be tested by DHL, plans to recruit city-dwellers to deliver packages along routes they’d be taking anyway.
Created last year by a team of students at Germany’s HPI School of Design Thinking at Potsdam University, bring.BUDDY taps all the consumers moving through a city each day, whether by bike, public transport or on foot. Interested participants indicate their route using a downloadable smartphone app; a text message then lets them know of any packages needing delivery along the way. They can pick up the packages from a local kiosk and deliver them as they go about their daily business, and are rewarded with points that can be redeemed for free train tickets, merchandise coupons or CO2 credits.
As part of an effort to reduce its own carbon emissions, DHL will reportedly begin a pilot test based on bring.BUDDY and its network of DHL Packstation kiosks later this year.
Siemens Bank to off er loans to sectors hit by the credit crisis
Siemens, which recently received regulatory clearing to launch its own bank, says it aims to offer up to €2bn in loans to renewable energy and healthcare companies. It’s one of the first German industrial companies outside the auto industry to set up a bank in order to hand out loans, give deposits and tap central bank funding, in a move that underlines the mistrust in banks’ financing capabilities in the wake of the credit crisis.
Starting with around 100 employees, Siemens Bank will focus on these two sectors in Germany that have found it hard to secure credit since the crisis. The group is also considering other countries in Europe, and emerging markets such as India. Chief executive of financial services Roland Chalons-Browne said the new bank would avoid high-risk activities. “We do not offer real estate or consumer finance, where the risks are much higher,” he told the media. “In the case of another financial crisis, we will be able to broaden our flexibility and take out risk with our own bank”.
Czech transport minister takes the high road on driving off ences
While the Czech economy is healing nicely – it grew 3% in the third quarter of 2010 – colourful transport minister Vít Bárta has no intention of giving up his idea of raising cash from fining Prague’s bad motorists. Indeed, he hinted that changes allowing “more flexible punishments” could be ushered in by March. Bárta says all fines should be related to the offender’s ability to pay, and should work as a long-term deterrent. During an interview on public broadcaster Czech Television, he argued that fines for aggressive drivers should be so severe they forgo holidays or an apartment for the rest of their lives. Lawyers – and some colleagues – have pointed out that setting fines on ability to pay could infringe civil liberties. But Bárta may find more support for a related issue. In 2009, up to 40% of driving offence cases had to be dropped because they weren’t processed within 12 months due to a bureaucratic pile-up.
And there’s more bad news for drivers. Under an EU law approved last month, those who commit major offences while abroad will be punished in their home country. Authorities in the 27-nation bloc will give one another access to vehicle registration data – so, for example, a Czech driver caught speeding in Germany wouldn’t escape a fine. Foreign drivers account for 5% of traffic on Europe’s roads but 15% of speeding offences, says the EU transport commissioner. Some countries already cooperate – as many a Belgian driver who’s received a ticket at home after being photographed speeding in France will attest.
Trio of EU countries come out on top
Austria, Belgium and Germany have been more successful than other EU member states at keeping people in their jobs during the economic recession, according to the European Commission’s latest annual employment report.
In these three countries, large numbers of workers in key sectors have been able to keep their jobs because employers have been encouraged to make use of short-time arrangements that reduce the number of hours worked by each employee. “This has clearly had a positive effect on employment and I think these countries are starting the new recovery period from the best position,” said László Andor, EU commissioner for employment and social affairs.
At the other end of the scale, the commissioner pointed to Spain, Portugal and Ireland as the countries that have experienced the most significant increases in unemployment in the recession. Andor told delegates that unemployment across the EU seems to have reached its peak, and is likely to start falling in the first half of 2011. He said that the economic outlook is improving, but that “we have to be aware that this is a fragile recovery.”
Studies paint contrasting picture of digital media in Germany
Telecoms and IT companies are the most innovative corporations in Germany, according to a new study. Research centre ZEW polled 1,500 organisations specialising in information and communications technology (ICT), alongside 1,000 businesses that utilise such systems. The results showed that 40% of new goods and services created in Germany are now related to ICT, while around 23% of domestic GDP growth between 1999 and 2007 was based at least in part on the rising deployment and use of these services. The range of such activity has also diversified dramatically, including everything from smartphones and tablets to cloud computing applications. Enterprises in the electronics sector registered a score of 70% regarding new product development, beating the chemical, pharma and mechanical engineering segments.
It seems strange, then, that a report by Initiative D21 and TNS claims consumers in Germany have not yet joined the digital society. They found only 37% of respondents had fully incorporated digital media into their lives, and that 63% of Germans had “little or no command” of the opportunities provided by new media. Nevertheless, a small but crucial community, the “digital avant-garde”, has expanded by 2% in the last year and now stands at 5%. These individuals dedicate 10 hours a day to using a computer, alongside logging on via wireless handsets.
Hotel chain in hot water after ‘off ensive’ ad campaign
Oh those prudish Swedes. Nordic hotel chain First Hotels has been slammed by the Swedish advertising ombudsman (Reklamombudsmannen – RO) for an internet campaign featuring scantily clad employees and sexual innuendo. The RO decided that the two adverts, which feature a bellboy and a chambermaid sitting on a chair under the words “Sleep with us”, are discriminatory and in breach of International Chamber of Commerce rules. “By their clothing and pose they are presented as pure sex objects in a way that can be considered offensive to women and men in general,” the ombudsman proclaimed.
First Hotels argue that the adverts were intended to display its staff’s humour rather than libido, with CEO Michael Telling huffing to The Local: “The humour is obvious”. The chain, which operates 47 properties across Scandinavia, argued that the retro French maid and bellboy attire was evidence of a tongue-in-cheek approach and rejected accusations of discrimination, pointing out that both sexes were represented. At least the RO dismissed claims from several complainers, who said the ads made it look like the hotel was offering prostitution services…
Switzerland’s tax-dodging ‘brass plate firms’ a concern for EU
The EU hasn’t forgotten about Switzerland’s ‘brass plate firms’, which operate without staff and, along with foreign holding companies based in Switzerland, don’t have to pay tax on overseas earnings. Market research firm Moneyhouse estimates that there are 30,000 such firms in the country, funnelling earnings through what amounts to little more than an address, while watchdog groups believe the real figure could be above 100,000. But there has so far been little progress in finding ways to replace lost tax revenues if brass plate companies are outlawed. The goal is to bring about a regime that does not exempt overseas profits from tax, while maintaining Switzerland’s competitive edge through taxation. The most likely way of achieving this appears to be by lowering the rate of corporate taxes across the board for both domestic and foreign earnings, or by redistributing a central fund that funnels cash from richer cantons to less well off counterparts.
Unhelpfully, it has just been revealed that the fortunes of the 300 most wealthy people living in Switzerland rose by €16bn this year. Leading the way for the ninth year is the Swedish founder of the Ikea furniture empire, Ingvar Kamprad, whose wealth is estimated at €27bn.